Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The line beckons

How is it that my kitchen bench is the regulation height, so I can comfortably peel carrots and wash dishes for hours; but when I write my back aches? I write on a laptop on a card table tucked into a corner upstairs; I sit on an old wooden chair. Downstairs is the family computer, with an adjustable chair and a proper desk. But after years of enduring, I've admitted I can't write there. My children run up and down the corridor and shriek just outside the door and burst into the room halfway through a tricky paragraph; and I have to share the computer. I've finally given up and retreated heavenwards, twenty steps, a child safety gate, and two solid doors between us.

I can't blame anyone but myself for the furniture. Several times, my husband has suggested we go shopping for a good desk, a better chair, a rug to brighten the room. I refuse. I say that the time we spend shopping is time I could be writing, and I guard that time jealously. Also, I am weighed down by the acquisition of stuff. I don't know where to buy a rug that is fair trade but beautiful; and how can I have something on my floor that was made by debt slaves in Pakistan? So I make my excuses and sit at a card table, while my lower back aches in protest.

I skirt around the other issue: that I'm writing at all. If I buy a desk and a chair, then I'm committing to the endeavour, and that's frightening. Because if I'm writing, then what of it? What if I'm never able to find the time and space to write something really good? Will I ever do more than notes on a webpage? And what will be the effect on my kids?

When I write too long I am stroppy with my children; I resent them and the demands they make on me. I don't want to cook or clean or have anything else to do with the household. Yet there is a paradox. It wasn't until I had children that I began to write. In having them I came to know myself enough, grew enough courage, to begin. They are both impetus and impediment. I don't want to disappear into the world of words, failing as a mother as I dream always of the next image, the next sentence, when I am with them; but I can't stop telling our stories.

And at some stage my aching back will force me to go shopping, and admit that this tapping away, these words on the page, are as necessary as breathing, as vital as eating, as important as washing the dishes.

And maybe there's a clue. Not all of us were born to write great works of literature. Maybe some of us, one of us, was born to wash dishes, to watch and observe the daily and to write about it, to remind her and you of what it's all about. I think of myself as telling you stories, stories of me which are stories of you, about who we are and who we were and who we will become. Stories that remind us how abundant life is, how the mundane can crackle and bounce if we only make the effort to notice.

As I type, the washing machine trills. In a moment, I will stand and stretch my aching back. I will go downstairs and fill my mother's ancient basket with cool clean clothes and carry it outside. The morning sun is just clearing the fence. As I lift up the washing and peg, it will shine into my eyes. I will bend to the basket and stand again, bend and stand, the back of my neck cooled then warmed as I duck in and out of the shadows. There is beauty here, a small sacred dance offered by countless women to the light, to the dark, to their household, to the god of the daily. I will dance, and I will notice, and I will tell you, because it is my story and your story and the story of generations stretching back beyond memory and surging forward past imagining, the story of all of us who wash and cook and work and clean in the cool quiet stillness of home.

I will wash and I will write. The line beckons.

1 comment:

  1. I can relate to so much of what you've written here. Why is it that the time I have to do exactly what I want to do never satiates? I always want more, and it's a grind to then think of dinner... I don't often return refreshed, and yet I crave that time for me...would it be different if I had weeks to myself?! And how does a family fit into that?... thanks again for your words...


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